WASHINGTON — This summer gave some relief to arts advocates fearful that federal funding would be zeroed out after President Donald Trump’s budget called for eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In July, a key House committee passed a bill that funds both agencies, albeit with about $5 million in cuts to each agency, to $145 million.
As great as that bipartisan support may sound, Congress is facing a ticking time bomb of having to fund the government past Sept. 30 and raise the debt ceiling by a day earlier.
“There’s some really big items on the table, they have got four weeks to figure it out, and if we are not a squeaky wheel, then sometimes these things happen where these kinds of very small tiny programs that are worthwhile fall through the cracks,” said Charles Segars, a longtime arts advocate and CEO of Ovation channel.
Segars, in an interview with Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM, said that the NEA grants to arts organizations serve as a kind of “gold seal of approval of the arts” that help groups and organizations raise private donations and state and local funds.
“I always say for every dollar spent to the NEA, five comes back to the tax coffers. That’s good business,” Segars says.
What Led to the Resignations of Trump’s Arts Committee
Eric Ortner, who was a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, talks about what led to the decision to resign en masse, in protest of the president’s response to the Charlottesville violence.
Ortner and other remaining members of the committee were appointed by President Barack Obama, and they were awaiting word on what future direction that the committee would take during Trump’s term. Nothing happened, though. Ortner said that months ago, another committee member, Kal Penn circulated a draft resignation letter, tied to Trump’s announcement that he would be revisiting Cuba policy.
“We discussed that we didn’t want to leave on a partisan note,” Ortner says. “We wanted to leave on a note that protected artists. It was a collaborative process, through the letter, and ultimately what we hoped would be a bold statement that would inspire others to recognize the power of art and creativity.”
He said that it was Penn’s idea to feature an acrostic in the letter. That was the first letter of each paragraph which spelled out the word “R-E-S-I-S-T.” It was a message in part to bureaucrats still in government to “continue to do their jobs” even though they are working for an administration that is “antithetical to why they got involved in public service.”
“Kal Penn is a wonderful humorist. There were some earlier drafts that had some less appropriate acrostics,” Ortner says.
The White House said that Trump was planning to disband the committee anyway, arguing that it was not a “responsible way to spend American tax dollars.” It had a budget of about $1.7 million per year.
President Ronald Reagan created the committee in 1982, and its first members included Frank Sinatra.
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.